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Although this term is commonly used for any recreational activity where the weights are being used for training (usually in the gyms), weightlifting is, in fact, a sport where competitors lift heavy weights mounted on steel bars.

When we talk about competitive weightlifting  we can talk about two different weightlifting events [1]:

  • The “snatch” discipline, where the competitors must lift the weight above their head in one move.
  • The ”clean and jerk” discipline – where the same thing is done in two moves, one to lift the weight to the collar bone and the second to lift it above the head.


Bodybuilding is a sport or activity in which the primary objective is to develop the size of the skeletal muscles.

Teen bodybuilding has gained increasing popularity in the last couple of years, with young teens hitting the gym almost daily.

Effects Of Weight Lifting

Though there are many theories about the effects of weightlifting on young kids and teenagers, scientific evidence proves that weightlifting has many beneficial effects on the body. Weight lifting leads to higher self-esteem and confidence [2], becoming fit and healthy, and looking good. It is also a very good and effective way to treat depression [3]. Lifting weights causes growth of the muscles, fat loss, a metabolism boost, and an increase in strength. [4]

How young is too young to be training for a bodybuilding competition? Some young people start with bodybuilding sooner than others. The right time for teen bodybuilding, it's been proven, is completely individual but it is usually best to start training at 15 or 16. [5] Studies prove that young athletes can successfully and safely improve their strength and overall health by participating in a well-supervised program, including weightlifting. However, their trainers must play an essential role in ensuring proper technique, form, and progression of exercises.  

In the past, many people believed that weightlifting has a negative effect on body growth. However, there is still no scientific evidence to support that theory. On the contrary, practical studies prove that weights and resistance machines, with supervision and low instructor/participant ratios, are relatively safe and do not negatively impact growth and maturation of pre- and early-pubertal youth. [6]

Myth busted, then: weightlifting won’t "stunt" your growth if you're a teenager. However, extreme and heavy lifting is unnecessary and might be very dangerous, particularly for pre-adolescent teens! Lifting heavy weights may speed up the closing of growth plates before they have had a chance to fully develop. That will result in stopping the growth process prematurely, and it will stunt the child’s growth. [7]

According to studies, one of the most often and possible complications are injuries. Many researchers proved that most injuries occurred from a breakdown in techniques while lifting excessive weight. The correct technique reduces the risk of injury in most cases.

There are several guidelines for young people who want to start weightlifting:

  • The most important thing a person should do before lifting any weight is to have a physical examination to rule out any medical conditions which can be further complicated by strength training. Such medical conditions are high blood pressure, back problems, or hernias.
  • Always start with low or minimal weights and perfect your technique.
  • Proper breathing technique is a crucial part of any successful training.
  • In an ideal environment, every strength training should be supervised and monitored closely.
  • Training must be at least 20-30 minutes long and it shouldn’t be done daily. For effective and noticeable results it should be performed 2-4 times per week. Rest is an important part of a physical development. 
  • Any injury that happened during the training must be evaluated before the program is continued.
  • Warm-up activities should be performed before each training session
  • In general, resting approximately 1 minute between sets is recommended for weight training beginners.
  • Stretching is also an important part of every weightlifting training. During puberty, the bones grow faster than the muscles and tendons and this is stretching them tight. That’s why by focusing on stretching tendons and muscles, you decrease the risk of injury. Perform stretching exercises at least 10 minutes at the end of the training. 

Balanced nutrition is another really crucial thing every potential bodybuilder should know about. Nutrition should provide the proper balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates so that your muscles can repair and build. Many experts recommend that gym-based trainings are mixed with aerobic and anaerobic exercises such as running, walking and bicycling because they will strengthen your cardiovascular function. 

Benefits of good fitness and weightlifting program on young people

Abuse of drugs by professional bodybuilders

The darkest side of bodybuilding is definitely the abuse of drugs that are commonly used by professional bodybuilders.

Anabolic steroids

The most common and easily available drug is definitely a testosterone called “Test” in the bodybuilding world!

These medications called anabolic steroids are frequently used in gyms all around the world. Anabolic steroids are drugs that resemble androgenic hormones such as testosterone. Many professional bodybuilders use them in the hope they will gain more muscle weight, strength, power, speed, endurance, and aggressiveness. Physiologically, male hormones such as testosterone are responsible for many developmental changes that occur mostly in puberty.

There are two types of testosterone effects [8]:

  • Androgenic effects - Testosterone is responsible for primary and secondary sexual characteristics including enlargement of the penis, voice changes, hair growth and several other effects. In short, androgenic refers to increased male sex characteristics.
  • Anabolic effects – accelerated growth of muscle, bone, and red blood cells. These are target effects of all bodybuilders! in short, anabolic refers to muscle building.

These medications work by stimulating certain receptors found in muscle cells. When these receptors are stimulated, specific genes are producing proteins. They also change the complete enzyme lists that are involved in this process.
 
No hypothesis about anabolic steroids has been fully proven but there are many proofs that these hormones have anti-catabolic effects. This means that they prevent tissue breakdown during and after exercise that is usually caused by other hormones such as cortisol. This can significantly speed up the recovery time after a hard training. Beside these “physical effects” of anabolic steroids, there are also many psychological effects that are still unknown or unclear.

Several studies tried to determine more facts about the “psychosomatic state" that these drugs are causing. This state of mind is characterized by sensations of well being, euphoria, aggressiveness, and tolerance to stress.

Anabolic steroids may have serious long-term side effects, such as [8]: 

  • Kidney problems or failure
  • Liver damage
  • An enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and changes in blood cholesterol, all of which increase the risk of stroke and heart attack, even in young people

In men, anabolic steroids can cause: 

  • Shrinking testicles
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Baldness
  • Development of breasts
  • Increased risk of prostate cancer

In women they can cause:

  • Growth of facial hair or excess body hair
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Changes to or a complete halt of the menstrual cycle
  • An enlarged clitoris
  • A deepened voice

In teens, anabolic steroids may cause:

  • Stunted growth (when high hormone levels from steroids signal to the body to stop bone growth too early)
  • Stunted height (if teens use steroids before their growth spurt)

Creatine

This substance is normally made in our liver, pancreas, and kidneys and is deposited in several tissues such as muscles, heart, brain, testicles and the eye, but it can be also made in a laboratory. Its primary role is participation in the metabolic production of cellular energy. There are many possible side effects that may occur if a person ingests more creatine than his body can handle and the most common are headaches, water retention, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. [9]

Professional bodybuilders may use many other supplements on a daily basis, such as different kinds of amino acids, Beta-hydroxy-Beta-methylbutyrate, supplements of chromium, calcium, iron, and others. Most professional bodybuilders also use some very strong diuretics just a day or two before a big competition, because it will free their body from excess water.

What after?

There are many myths about what happens to bodybuilders after they retire from competition. Although many scientists claim that these men are faced with several health problems, this still hasn’t been proven. There really isn't any research that confirms that any bodybuilder had major health problems or any other long-term negative side effects from long-term bodybuilding, if we exclude the use of steroids.